The trustees of the Firemen’s Retirement System of St. Louis sued the City of St. Louis today following cuts to firefighter sick leave. In the suit, the retirement board argues that laws passed last month by the city board of aldermen and mayor seek to limit the accumulation of sick leave, and contradict state law.
This summer, the city moved to change laws that allowed city employees, including firefighters, to cash out half their accumulated sick days when they retired and use the other half to build up years of service and final pay, which would boost their retirement payouts.
City administrators said that the cut could eventually save $400,000 a year.
But Dan Tobben, attorney for the system, said that state law prohibits caps on accumulated sick leave for current firefighters. The city can’t change firefighter benefits without first getting a change in state law, he said.
In addition, the suit says that the city can’t take away any previously hired firefighter’s individual retirement benefits at all, regardless of any change to state law.
The move comes as the city struggles with firefighter pay and pensions. City leaders say firefighter pensions are ballooning, rising by $5.9 million this year alone. They’ve been meeting with firefighter representatives for weeks to negotiate pay cuts, pension changes and layoffs, likely to come soon.
Vicky Grass, executive director of the firefighter retirement system, said in a statement that the city is unfairly singling out firefighters in its attempts to fix an unbalanced budget.
“Surely, the Mayor does not believe that the firefighters or their pensions are bankrupting the city,” she said. “The men and women of the fire department are among the hardest working employees in the city and to balance the budget on the backs of firefighters, retirees and their families is not only unfair, it is wrong.”